Cleveland team takes on Battle of the Books

Cleveland’s very first OBOB team takes the stage, ending 5th at regionals. An exclusive with the club’s founders.

Clarion photo Eric Levine
From left to right: Alida Shi Lyons, Mathilda Barnes, Hazel Burke, Franka Gronke, Mingus Kiser.

Cleveland’s first Oregon Battle of the Books team (OBOB) competed in the Portland Regional Competition on March 11 at Franklin High School. The team, named Sean the Sheep, is composed of five freshmen: Alida Shi Lyons, Mathilda Barnes, Hazel Burke, Franka Gronke, and Mingus Kiser. They formed early September this year at the efforts of Burke and Shi Lyons, and once formed, they met every Wednesday to read the assigned books and prepare for competition.

“It was really refreshing for me as an English teacher to see so many students rabid about the books and, yeah, there were points attached and reasons to get really into it, but they were reading and re-reading books and talking about them every week and the depth you had to prepare for in these questions…just listening to them I started to feel like I knew about the books,” said Eric Levine, the OBOB club’s proctor.

The Clarion spoke to Shi Lyons and Burke, the two freshmen that originally went up to Mr. Levine with the idea to start the OBOB team. While it was Burke’s very first experience with OBOB, Shi Lyons had been on OBOB teams throughout her elementary school years, and even a portion of sixth grade before Covid-19 shut down schools.

“My OBOB team in sixth grade made it to regionals, and the day before regionals is when the quarantine started. And I was really sad. So I came into high school, and there was no high school OBOB! So I was like, ok, let’s start high school OBOB. I got Hazel and we ended up going to the whole process of making the club together,” Shi Lyons said.

Oregon Battle of the Books competition is structured in two chunks, the Pool Play round, which comprises two sessions of battles where Cleveland competed against two other teams, for a grand total of four matches in the preliminary Pool Play. Their marks were high enough to make it into the elimination round seeded fifth, in which they were knocked out in a tight round against Grant with the final tie breaker question.

“There are two types of questions [asked], ones called ‘In which book’ where the question is ‘In which book does this occur?’ The kids have to come up with the correct book and author. [Second] there is a set of content questions so they say, ‘In this book specifically what was the last name of the teacher?’ I mean, they get very detailed,” said Levine.

Shi Lyons reminisced on the question she said “doomed” them. In a tight back and forth there was one tie breaker question that rattled both Cleveland and Grant’s team. Shi Lyons retold the exact moment with an exasperated but humorous tone.

“I had read one part of the book two days ago [that the question was about]. And I had been like this name is going to come up, I should remember this name! I could not remember the name, and it was really sad. So I made up some completely random name, and it was wrong. The other team also got it wrong. And then the guy [Judge] announced it and it was Isla Jordan. He said Isla and it popped into my head, and I just said Jordan really loudly.
Yeah, that will never leave me now. It’ll haunt me for the rest of my days,” Shi Lyons said.

The two expressed that they want to expand Cleveland’s OBOB presence next year, and expand to more people and grade levels. They meet weekly on Wednesdays at lunch in Levine’s room, 378 in the east wing, and encourage all to come join, form a team or simply to enjoy books.

“We only had one team this year, and it’d be great if we get a multiple next year and actually have an in-school competition!” Burke said. The team, unopposed at Cleveland, went directly to regionals.

Levine had a similar sentiment saying, “Read, keep reading, and when you’re ready, come and play.”